We decided to do a little exploring of the North island so we hired a cheapo (relatively) camper van with ‘Exciting New Zealand’ emblazoned on it and hit the open road. All was well for the first hour as I drove on the amazingly quiet roads, singing Dixie Chicks songs and planning our route. We stopped to stock up in a supermarket, jumped back in our wagon, only to find the brake warning alarm flashing and the brakes intermittently seizing. There followed an anxious sweaty hour in a garage trying to get the attention of the snooty mechanic who was much more interested in some shiny sports car. After much fiddling about, removing of wheels, sucking of teeth and shaking of heads the diagnosis was… gremlins.
Whatever! it worked and we headed off to Rotorua, (try saying that with a rhotacism like mine), the land of the stinky eggy emissions. You can’t ignore the fact that much of New Zealand has active volcanoes and the sulfurous whiff is a ever present reminder here. We got settled into our campsite with some great facilities and an interesting selection of campers. We tried the thermal spa which is reputed to do wonders for arthritis and other ailments, it certainly soothed our creaky bones.
We walked across the road in the belting heat (it’s Summer here) to investigate Te Puia where you might be lucky to see a geyser blow, but it was so hot and silly expensive we ran away. Matt discovered a cheaper version so we visited there in the cool of the next morning. It was a fascinating tour around a thermal village where Maoris live and work, we were struck by the pride of the community and the way they have integrated into ‘modern’ life whilst still preserving their healing traditions, their education and very importantly, their language, all of which were under threat from European domination not so very long ago. We walked around marveling at the volcanic pre-historic looking landscape, glooping pools and steaming streams and we saw the mighty Te Puia geyser blow a good 30 metres into the air, a sight Matt has always wanted to see. All of the Maori community get together every evening and bathe together under the stars letting their aches drift away as they catch up with the latest gossip. We watched a cultural show, some of it very impressive, like the Haka war dance, some of it rather naff, like the audience participation hokey-cokey!
Onwards we drove, leaving the smell of eggy farts as a distant memory, we headed West to the Waitomo caves. Matt was still working through the fiendish Rodrigo and Gabriela album in working conditions only marginally improved since the bunk beds, it meant our tiny van was pretty much occupied, so I went tramping the hills in search of hobbits, writing up our travel adventures, taking photos or floating about in the pool.
We had a double cave day, the first being pretty impressive, though we were smarting a bit from the enormous expense and the large hole in our small budget. The second one made it all worthwhile however, it was truly awesome (the non-American version). We were herded into the darkest depths to an underground river and told there was only room for half of us in the boat, so we we left huddled together, a group of strangers in the dark, the silence broken only by the occasional drip or nervous whisper. Eventually it was our turn and the boat came gliding out of the darkness and we clambered in. We were transported, gliding silently in the water, raising our eyes to see the most beautiful constellations of glow worms everywhere. We weren’t allowed to take photo’s and in some ways I’m pleased about that, we just simply absorbed this incredible natural phenomena, sorry not to share the vision with you though!
Speaking of remarkable natural phenomena, this country has more than it’s fair share, we headed for another one, after a night’s stop in a slightly dodgy campsite that looked like a gathering place for all the men who’s wives have kicked them out, one in particular was very leery and sported an impressive mullet. Anyway, I digress… on to Hot Water Beach where the volcanic action makes it’s presence known once again. You can hire a spade here and dig in the sand until you have your own private hot spa, well semi-private, the hot springs are concentrated in a small area so all of humanity and their mother are squashed in and digging, it’s quite a sight!
Then it was back to Auckland to say goodbye to ‘Exciting’ and to continue our onward adventure… stay tuned…
Meantime check out the illustrated version in the slideshow below.
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